2016-02-18 / Front Page

Circular Reasoning

Middletown Approves Roundabout
By Olga Enger

As part of a larger plan to improve lower Aquidneck Avenue in Middletown, the Town Council has approved the installation of a landscaped roundabout at the intersection of Aquidneck Avenue and Valley Road. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation claims the project will reduce head-on and angle-type crashes, slow traffic during off-peak conditions, reduce driver confusion, and provide pedestrian facilities. Over the past five years, there have been 29 crashes and five head-on collisions. Also included in the project is a bump-out on Aquidneck Avenue at Easton’s Beach and the conversion of Crescent Road into a one-way street. (Image courtesy of RIDOT)

As part of a larger plan to improve lower Aquidneck Avenue in Middletown, the Town Council has approved the installation of a landscaped roundabout at the intersection of Aquidneck Avenue and Valley Road. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation claims the project will reduce head-on and angle-type crashes, slow traffic during off-peak conditions, reduce driver confusion, and provide pedestrian facilities. Over the past five years, there have been 29 crashes and five head-on collisions. Also included in the project is a bump-out on Aquidneck Avenue at Easton’s Beach and the conversion of Crescent Road into a one-way street. (Image courtesy of RIDOT)

Middletown Town Council is moving forward with several new roadway projects, including a new roundabout at Aquidneck Avenue and Valley Road, a pedestrian bump-out near Easton’s Beach, and the conversion of Crescent Road into a one-way street.

The projects were endorsed during a lightly-attended meeting held at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16, two hours before the regular council meeting. Notwithstanding that the meeting was posted as a Department of Transportation presentation, councilors took action to approve the projects. Two councilors, Paul Rodrigues and Antone Viveiros, were absent.

“This isn’t as much a presentation, but we are rather looking for a decision from the council,” said Town Administrator Shawn Brown in his opening comments.

“The town’s meeting notice states that all items on the agenda may be considered, discussed and voted upon,” Brown told Newport This Week. “The plans are 10 percent final. There will be additional meetings to work out details with the stakeholders and the public.”

Middletown has been studying improvements to lower Aquidneck Avenue since 2007, when the Atlantic Beach Master Plan was released. In that report, four intersections were identified for improvements: Valley Road, Crescent Road, Newport Avenue and Purgatory Road.

“The idea is to get people out of their cars, walking through the area, and to spur more business,” said Brown at the meeting. “We looked at it from the perspective of developing the business district and pedestrian safety.”

In 2001, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Providence completed a study of Aquidneck Island’s transportation system, which was consistent with the Atlantic Beach Master Plan, including using roundabouts to improve traffic flow and to protect pedestrians.

Three of the four projects will be funded through the federal Department of Transportation Highway Safety Improvement Program. A contract for work at a fourth intersection at Aquidneck and Newport avenues was awarded to VHB last year.

Officials have said the recommendations total approximately $2 million in work.

Roundabout at Aquidneck Avenue at Valley Road

Council approved the construction of a roundabout at Aquidneck Avenue and Valley Road in a 4-1 vote, with Councilor Theresa Santos opposed.

“This certainly was part of the master plan,” said Council President Robert Sylvia. “It will move [traffic] with less chance of having accidents in that area. It’s a gateway to the beach, so it’s important to keep it moving, but cautiously moving. The construction of the roundabout is the right thing to do.”

The intersection is considered a high-accident area by the DOT, with 29 crashes reported over a five-year period. There have been five head-on collisions.

“Don’t blame [the accidents] on the road. Blame it on the drivers,” said Santos. “Drivers aren’t paying attention; they are speeding.”

“A roundabout is a traffic-calming device,” responded Councilor Henry Lombardi. “It will slow it down, that’s the nature of it. It’s the whole idea of a roundabout.”

The DOT claims a roundabout will reduce head-on and angle-type crashes, slow traffic during off-peak conditions, reduce driver confusion, and provide pedestrian facilities.

“Have you been to the one on Connell Highway in Newport?” asked Santos.

“That’s a disaster. That should never have been done, how it was done,” answered Lombardi.

The proposed roundabout would be around 150-200 feet in diameter, which is less than half the size of a traffic circle, according to the DOT. Therefore, the circulatory speed of a modern roundabout, which is 15-25 mph, is slower than a traffic circle, which is around 30- 35 mph.

“With what has been presented to me throughout the years, I think the roundabout is a good idea,” said Town Engineer Warren Hall.

Aquidneck Avenue at Crescent Road

Councilors unanimously approved converting Crescent Road to a one-way street and installing curbing and sidewalks.

“It’s going to eliminate a lot of traffic confusion. During the summer months, it’s challenging,” said Sylvia.

Art Weber, vice chair of the Middletown Planning Board, agreed.

“When you have two cars going opposite directions there, it’s pretty exciting,” laughed Weber from the audience.

Bump-out at Aquidneck Avenue and Purgatory Road
The bump-out would be installed over the slip lane, which drivers currently use to go right onto Purgatory Road. The bump-out would be installed over the slip lane, which drivers currently use to go right onto Purgatory Road.

In a 4-1 vote, council approved removing the slip lane from the intersection in front of the former Atlantic Beach Club. Councilor Robert Kempenaar voted against the motion, citing his concerns that it would back up traffic in the summer.

“I live in the area, and coming home at night…every day is a nightmare in the summertime,” said Kempenaar.

The bump-out would be installed over the slip lane, which drivers currently use to go right onto Purgatory Road.

Sylvia said he is concerned about pedestrians.

“I spend a lot of time there,” said Sylvia. “They come out like ants; they are all over the place. We could build the biggest crosswalk with electric lights in the pavement, but they are still going to cross where they want to. This will reduce the risk of someone getting hit by a car.”

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